Williams v. State

Decision Date21 February 2018
Docket NumberNo. 25, September Term, 2017,25, September Term, 2017
Citation457 Md. 551,179 A.3d 1006
Parties Harold Eugene WILLIAMS v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Wyatt Feeler, Asst. Pub. Def. (Paul B. DeWolfe, Pub. Def. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Petitioner.

Argued by: Gary E. O'Connor, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

Argued Before: Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

Hotten, J.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case stems from an incident between Petitioner, Harold Eugene Williams, and his then girlfriend, Angela Swan. Following an altercation between Williams and Swan, Williams was charged and later tried on seven counts, including first-degree assault, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, three weapons-related offenses, and posting revenge pornography in violation of Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.), § 3–809 of the Criminal Law Article. A jury found Williams guilty of second-degree assault, acquitting him on the remaining charges. The following facts were adduced at trial:

Williams and Swan shared an intimate relationship from 2012 until October of 2015. In the last few months of the relationship, they frequently quarreled. Williams and Swan did not reside together, but Swan had a key to Williams' home, kept personal belongings there, and frequently spent the night. Swan testified that Williams' possessed a silver handgun and a rifle. Swan also testified that Williams kept the handgun under his pillow, and she would typically move the handgun under the bed when she stayed overnight. On October 23, 2015, Swan spent the night at Williams' home. The following morning, Swan went into Williams' bathroom wearing only a shirt. While Swan was using the second-floor bathroom, Williams, who was on the first floor, heard Swan's cell phone ringing. Williams picked up Swan's phone, and saw a text message from another man, along with messages from three other men. Williams also saw that Swan previously sent a nude photograph to someone. With Swan's phone in hand, Williams confronted Swan, and threw her phone at her. Williams called Swan a derogatory term and told her to leave. Before Swan could leave, Williams shoved her against the bathroom wall and began hitting her body. Crying, Swan tried to leave the bathroom but Williams threw her into the hallway, on the floor. While Swan was on her back, Williams continued yelling, punching, and kicking Swan's body. Swan begged for time to get her things and leave. As she walked up the stairs to gather her belongings, Williams began walking down the stairs. According to Swan, Williams threw Swan's pants at her, and held a gun to her head while he used her cell phone to tell someone to come get Swan before he killed her. Swan testified that Williams then pushed her down the stairs, but she eventually got up, and went to the first floor to get her purse to leave. Williams came to the first floor, pushed Swan into a closet, and took her purse, but Williams still held the gun. Swan ran up to the second floor where she was able to grab a towel to wrap around her waist. She also took some of Williams' belongings with the intention of trading his things back for hers, and left the house.

After the confrontation, Swan drove to a nearby convenience store to call 911. She told the operator that Williams had attacked her and held a gun to her head, but that she did not need medical attention. A police officer arrived to assist Swan. Swan explained that Williams still had some of her belongings, including her cell phone. The officer went to Williams' house and retrieved Swan's cell phone. Once Swan secured her phone, she saw that her nude photograph posted to her Facebook account, but the police officer showed Swan how to delete the post. The day after the incident, Swan went to Northwest Hospital for treatment.

Williams testified in his defense, and denied punching, kicking, or threatening Swan with a gun. He denied that he even owned a gun. Williams testified that after he saw the nude photographs sent to other men on Swan's phone, he went into the second-floor bathroom of his house and confronted Swan. He claimed that he repeatedly told her to leave, so he went to the first floor, opened the door, and threw her purse outside. Williams admitted that when Swan came downstairs she had a towel around her waist, which he tried to grab while pushing her out of the door, but that instead of leaving, Swan went back upstairs. Williams said he wanted Swan to leave, so he went to the third floor bedroom and threw her clothing down the steps, but not at her. Later, Williams went to his front door where he saw Swan, who demanded that Williams return her phone and indicated that she contacted the police. Williams left and went to his neighbor, Arkina Taylor's, house with Swan's phone. Williams returned home, and a few minutes later, the police arrived at his front door.

At trial, Williams' attorney and the trial judge explained to Williams that the State could use a previous battery conviction to impeach him. The following colloquy occurred at the bench:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: It's my understanding, and am I correct, Mr. Miller, that you have no crimes of impeachment that you would be willing to use against Mr. Williams?
[STATE]: I guess pursuant to the impeachment rule for prior convictions, going towards veracity, yes.
THE COURT: So, are you saying that you have something else that you can get in from some other avenue?
[STATE]: Well—
THE COURT: I mean if he got on the stand and denied something, then, of course you could, but I'm—that's not likely to come up.
[STATE]: Yeah, and I don't want to—I will approach before making my argument on that, and I don't want to give my arguments away—
THE COURT: Uh-huh.
[STATE]:—but do I have—there is a disqualifying offense, which theoretically could become relevant.
* * * *
[STATE]: I think there are scenarios where the door may be open for some of his prior convictions to come in.
THE COURT: Okay. I can't conceive of that, but you may be absolutely correct; maybe that's what will happen. And I assume you've spoken to your client about that?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL}: Yes. Let me just break that down into regular English.
THE COURT: Okay.
[QUESTIONS BY DEFENSE COUNSEL]:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: You don't have any convictions in your background that the State could use as impeachment in terms of moral turpitude, so the State cannot use any past convictions to say, hey, you're a bad person. Do you understand that?
[WILLIAMS] Yes.
THE COURT: Or that he's a liar.
[STATE]: It's not just about—yeah.
[QUESTIONS BY DEFENSE COUNSEL]:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Right. Or that you're lying. Do you understand that?
[WILLIAMS]: Yes.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Now, if you testify certain ways, maybe one or more of your past convictions may come in to prove that you're lying. Do you understand that?
[WILLIAMS]: Yes.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Do you have any questions about that?
[WILLIAMS]: No.

Williams called his former neighbor, Arkina Taylor, to testify as a character witness. Taylor knew Williams for ten years and opined that he was "[a] hard-working fun-loving guy that just likes to have a good time." Taylor testified that Williams had a reputation in the community for being a peaceful person, and that she had never seen him become violent or with a firearm.

After Taylor's direct examination, the State requested to approach the bench. The following colloquy occurred:

[STATE]: Your Honor, this is the exact scenario I was talking about. Now that she has said he's a peaceful person—
THE COURT: Uh-huh.
[STATE]:—the State is entitled to rebut that by asking her if she's aware that he has a prior conviction for battery.
THE COURT: Uh-huh. I think you are, too. Do you want to say anything about it?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I do. I think that the State should not be allowed to do that. If the State knew the specific facts of what that battery is, they
THE COURT: Well, why would that be, because I don't think the State is allowed to get into the facts; all they're allowed to do is ask that single question. Remember, they're not allowed to say or ask for their—
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I would think at this point, that they're referring to a conviction back in 1990 and I think it's certainly more prejudicial than probative and I don't think the State should be allowed—
[STATE]: It is 1990, Your Honor.
THE COURT: 1990. If she's known him for 10 years—
[STATE]: But they're—it's her best friend, so it's very relevant if she [sic] ever told him if she is aware of his prior convictions—
THE COURT: Uh-huh.
[STATE]:—that he's a peaceful and non-violent man. I mean it's completely relevant, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Uh-huh. I think it is, too.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And I would just argue that this is a conviction that dates back 25 years.
THE COURT: Uh-huh.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: It dates a full 16 years prior to her knowing him.
THE COURT: Does that make any difference?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I think it does. I think it's certainly more prejudicial than probative.
THE COURT: Well, here's the problem I'm having and maybe you can help me with this; there's a difference between admitting it (indiscernible—10:52:04) and admitting it because it may not be a true fact, if he's always been a peaceful man, right?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Uh-huh.
THE COURT: And I think the State is trying to get it in to show that he's not peaceful. And so there's no requirement that it did not date back to at least—you know, even in 15 years.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I think there is. I specifically asked whether or not, based upon her knowledge of him and the length of time that she knew him, that he was peaceful, and based upon that, her knowledge, and those ten years of his reputation in the community, I think unless the State has some other hinge of evidence that he's gotten a reputation, based upon that past prior for being not peaceful or being violent, it shouldn't be allowed.
* * * *[STATE]: They opened
...

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